CVS Caremark to Kick Tobacco Habit

Michael R. Page, PharmD, RPh, and Daniel Weiss, Senior Editor
Published Online: Wednesday, February 5, 2014
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Following the urging of many health care and public health organizations, CVS Caremark will become the first national pharmacy chain to stop selling cigarettes and tobacco products.

CVS Caremark has announced that it will stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products at its CVS/pharmacy locations by October 1, 2014, making it the first national pharmacy chain to do so.
“Ending the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products at CVS/pharmacy is the right thing for us to do for our customers and our company to help people on their path to better health,” said Larry J. Merlo, president and CEO of CVS Caremark, in a press release.  “Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose.”
With 7600 locations across the country, CVS Caremark is the nation’s second largest pharmacy chain after Walgreens. Its decision to halt tobacco sales is in accord with positions taken by a range of health care and public health organizations, including the American Medical Association, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, and American Pharmacists Association (APhA).
“We welcome CVS Caremark’s commitment to health and wellness and its promise to remove tobacco products from their stores,” said APhA President and community pharmacist Steven T. Simenson, in a press release. “As pharmacists step up to provide care to their patients, we cannot continue to sell known health hazards in our pharmacies.”
In an interview with Pharmacy Times, John Colaizzi, RPh, PhD, a professor and former dean at the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy at Rutgers University who has called for pharmacists to stop selling tobacco products since the 1990s, argued that CVS Caremark’s announcement marked a turning point.
“It is inconsistent with the mission of pharmacy to continue selling cigarettes or tobacco products in pharmacies because today's pharmacy is a part of the health care system,” said Dr. Colaizzi. “Clearly this is a move in the right direction. We will see others, in time, follow in the same direction.”
CVS Caremark also announced that it will launch a smoking cessation program this spring that will offer information and treatment through its pharmacies, its 800 MinuteClinic locations, and through online resources. It will also offer smoking cessation programs to members of the CVS Caremark pharmacy benefit management plan.
In a statement, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius called the decision “an unprecedented step in the retail industry.” A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that each year smoking kills 480,000 Americans and costs the country $289 billion. In addition, each day 3200 youths under 18 try their first cigarette and more than 700 under 18 become daily smokers. Based on current smoking rates, a projected 5.6 million children alive today will die due to smoking.
“Today’s CVS Caremark announcement helps bring our country closer to achieving a tobacco-free generation,” Secretary Sebelius said in the statement. “I hope others will follow their lead in this important new step to curtail tobacco use.”
President Obama, who has publicly struggled with a smoking habit, also applauded CVS Caremark’s announcement, as did First Lady Michelle Obama, who tweeted: “Now we can all breathe a little easier, and our families can live healthier.”

Editor's note: Dr. Colaizzi was one of Dr. Page's professors at the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy at Rutgers University.

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